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UK plc must prepare for flexible workers

Microscope contributor


The idea of working from home in a comfortable study or sitting on the patio is very appealing when trapped in the office on a sunny spring morning, and thanks to new government legislation, from 6 April more than 10 million Brits have the legal right to request flexible working.

If you have worked in the same job continuously for 26 weeks or longer, from last Monday you have the right to request flexible working if you have a child aged under 16.

As explored in MicroScope last year, home-working strategies form a key part of a unified communications implementation and go a long way towards alleviating costs during the recession, sometimes even allowing businesses to close offices.

“The misconception that flexible working requires huge IT investment is similar to the misconception that every employee who works from home is distracted by daytime TV,” says Stephen Beynon, managing director at ntl:Telewest Business.

“Giving employees the opportunity to work on a flexible basis is cost-effective to set up and supports business continuity planning.”

Andy Lockwood, transformational director at business comms provider Opal, says resellers have a part to play in alleviating fears around investment through proof-of-concept demos, for example.

He believes the emergence of new spending patterns, especially the growth in managed services, means that with the added push of legislative backing, flexible working will take off.

The vogue for cost-cutting means niche vendors, such as mobile office specialist The Key Revolution, are keen to cash in on the legislation. CEO Adrian Burholt says, “The traditional way of kitting people out for home-working was to buy a lot of very expensive equipment. Our solutions can be 20% of the cost of a traditional installation, so this is a great opportunity to re-energise hardware resellers as it includes an interesting services proposition with good ­margins.”

Among businesses concern has grown around flexible working, with many managers alarmed over perceived threats to their control or employee productivity. Such fears will surface again as the floodgates open.

Beynon believes this sense of trepidation is largely unfounded. But Burholt says resellers will need to advise customers to hold internal negotiations to develop ground rules, noting that while employees granted flexible working rights tend not to abuse the privilege it is still easy to fiddle the system.

This view was backed up by Aastra’s UK general manager, Michael Calvert, who says, “There needs to be a relationship built on trust to make remote or flexible working function effectively. It needs boardroom backing, with stringent policies in place to govern data security and deter abuse.”

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